‘I don’t want to give bullies the time of day. I want to fight this.’

The Turning Point USA chapter at USF, unofficially being called The Forum, faces scrutiny from two students after cutting ties with the national Turning Point USA organization in Feb. leading to an ethics investigation and request for a court case.

By Maria Ranoni, NEWS EDITOR
On February 28, 2018

Students of the former TPUSA at USF now meet under the unofficial name of The Forum. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/BRYANT HOWARD

The Forum, formerly known as Turning Point USA (TPUSA) at USF, continues to experience controversy after cutting ties with the national organization, TPUSA.

Last month, The Forum president and Student Government (SG) Sen. Aida Vazquez-Soto was accused of being anti-Israel after her vote on a Senate resolution regarding the Israel and Palestine conflict. Vazquez-Soto vehemently denied this accusation, but rumors still swirled.

After these rumors reached TPUSA donors, Vazquez-Soto was told she must step down as the chapter’s president at which point she and most of the members of the organization decided to start The Forum.

Rather than formally starting an entirely new student organization and applying for new funding from the Activity & Services (A&S) fees, the former TPUSA chapter members will vote Thursday to officially change the name of the organization and keep the current funding.

TPUSA does not claim Vazquez-Soto as the president of the USF chapter anymore even though USF does. According to TPUSA’s chapter directory, it claims Spencer Tate, former SG Senator and member of TPUSA at USF, as the current president. 

Tate and fellow chapter member Leo Stoler disapprove of the current direction Vazquez-Soto and other members have taken the student organization and have therefore taken steps to discredit Vazquez-Soto’s leadership.

Tate emailed members of USF administration expressing concern and affirming his leadership within TPUSA at USF. 

“I find out Friday morning — Friday the 9th I want to say — Spencer had gone and emailed the administration claiming that the money, the travel grant, my Bullsync page, that they belonged to him because nationals went and recognized him on their directory as the president of the organization at the national level,” Vazquez-Soto said. “They removed my name. 

Tate could not be reached for comment by 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Vazquez-Soto said she was shocked to hear that the administration would be meeting about this considering the small size of the organization.

“Imagine my surprise when I hear that the director of the CLCE, the dean of students, the assistant dean of students, the director of SGATO, all these people are meeting over a little student organization with $2,000,” Vazquez-Soto said.

The administration replied to Tate by saying that student organizations are able to change any information in their constitution including their name and there has been no request for a name change thus far. They also mentioned that Vazquez-Soto is the current president of TPUSA at USF. 

However, Stoler proceeded to file an investigation request form with the Senate Ethics Committee against Vazquez-Soto and The Forum, claiming funding should be withheld from the organization because TPUSA at USF no longer exists and has changed its name to The Forum as well as changed it purpose on campus.

“What happened was Turning Point has a chapter at USF that was liquified by the organization itself because they disagreed with how she (Vazquez-Soto) was running the chapter,” Stoler said. “When that happened, she formed the new organization called The Forum, and The Forum has all the funding that Turning Point originally had and it didn’t go through the same process that an organization would have to go through to get A&S funding. That was the cause of that investigation, which didn’t even go through as planned.”

Vazquez-Soto said Stoler and Tate are working together in an effort to disenfranchise The Forum. 

“I get the email that an ethics investigation has been filed and the thing is it has been filed by Leo,” Vazquez-Soto said. “Leo Stoler and Spencer (Tate) are both kind of tag teammates in this. So, Leo files an ethics investigation and my first question is, ‘Why is this in their jurisdiction?’”

The Ethics Committee found that since TPUSA at USF has not officially changed its name, Stoler’s claims could not have occurred. Also, it stated that the Ethics Committee would not find any student organization in violation of a statute for a change in its constitution. 

“It didn’t work out and I’m disappointed, but I don’t want to dwell on something that didn’t work out,” Stoler said. “There’s only forward, there’s no backward.”

In a final attempt, Tate applied for a trial with the SG Supreme Court claiming that The Forum should have to start out as a new student organization and apply for funding rather than just changing its name to keep its current funding. 

However, the court decided that this was outside of its jurisdiction and therefore cannot proceed.  

“Nobody should ever have to go through that,” Vazquez-Soto said. “This was a club I founded. This was a student organization where the members were confident in my leadership, confident enough to come with me when I left Turning Point. It’s harassment because if anything you only need the ethics investigation, but this was him (Tate) just going in and trying to make people miserable which is what he does.”

According to Stoler, TPUSA has been encouraging him to pursue these actions in an effort to win back the organization’s chapter at USF.

“I’m involved in Turning Point and we’re trying to get our chapter back up and running at USF because we have the right and we’re being encouraged by Turning Point,” Stoler said. “Our regional director (Driena Sixto) has been pushing for it as well — who I’ve been working directly with.” 

TPUSA has been accused of interfering with university affairs in the past. Last year, Ryan Soscia and Logan Holland were accused of taking campaign merchandise from the organization during their campaign for student body president and vice president. According to a report by The Ohio State Lantern, TPUSA’s goal at the collegiate level is to influence SG races across the country to elect conservative students.

“Leo has been threatening that Turning Point will take legal action against the school,” Vazquez-Soto said. “He is one of the people helping them — this is systemic harassment. He’s one of the strings they’re pulling.”

Vazquez-Soto said she would describe Tate and Stoler as bullies. 

“I don’t want to give bullies the time of day,” Vazquez-Soto said. “I want to fight this.”

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